Branco Weiss and Cortona

WeissNot everybody knows, particularly in the younger generation, that the Cortona-ETHZ experiment would not have been possible without the foresight and financial help of a single man, Dr. Branco Weiss. When prof. Luisi had the idea of the Cortona-week in 1983, he began to look for financial help, and this was a long period characterized by frustration and disappointments-nor the ETHZ, nor the Swiss banks, nor the Swiss chemical companies, were interested in such an initiative, which at that time sounded indeed rather far fetched. Finally prof. Luisi, at that time ETH professor in macromolecular chemistry, took the initiative to call dr. Weiss over the telephone, whom he had never met personally. At that time, Branco Weiss was already a well known entrepreneur and as a very wealthy person. He had come to Switzerland with 13 as a refugee from Zagreb, where he had lost his father, killed in a concentration camp by the fascists. In Switzerland, the great capability of this young man were rapidly acknowledged and he was helped to enter and finish the university, obtaining a degree in chemistry at the ETHZ.

As the story goes, prof. Luisi asked for one hour to discuss a project, and the answer of Branco Weiss was, that he could give him fifteen minutes-and if his ideas would not sound convincing in fifteen minutes, it was not a good idea. Luisi accepted, and in fifteen minutes he summarized the idea of a residential week in order to mix the ETH science students with artists, musicians, religious leaders, psychologists and with many other kinds of students from many other universities---to open up their mind, their horizon, and to possibly produce a new generation of leaders. Fifteen minutes were more than enough, as Branco Weiss was completely on the same wavelength, actually he “knew” all that already. So Luisi obtained a check of 70,000 SFr. , which started the first Cortona week in 1985. Branco Weiss continued to finance the Cortona week for 5 more years, and after that he required that the ETHZ would do it. He was in the board of the school, having generously financed other initiatives for ETH, and his word was heard and accepted.

Branco Weiss never attached any string to his financing, and came a few times as a participant to Cortona. He passed away in 2010, and as last testimony of his affection for the Cortona idea left money to finance the 2010 Cortona India, which unfortunately he could not experience. People of this kind, real Renaissance men, who use their wealth for education and for the future of new generations, should be taken as an example and as a constant memento to those who have money and do nothing with it.